Essay about Unreliable Narration in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita

2334 Words 10 Pages
The Chicago critic Wayne Booth in his book Rhetoric of Fiction first coined the terms reliable and unreliable narrator. These terms have been of notable importance in narratological (analysis of narratives) studies ever since Booth’s book was first published in 1961. Booth defines the reliable and unreliable narrator in the following way: “I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say the implied author’s norms), unreliable when he does not” (Booth 158-59). In other words, when a narrator expresses values and perceptions that strikingly diverge from those of the author, he is deemed to be an unreliable narrator (Olson 93). Once the narrator has been …show more content…
If the author and the narrator share the same moral values, then it is often safe to say that the narrator will be a reliable source. In order to detect unreliability, the reader must adopt an interpretive strategy, which involves reading against the grain and assuming the understanding of the unspoken values that are communicated by the author. This strategy includes the detection of textual signals. Ansgar Nünning has devised a comprehensive list of fourteen textual signals to assist the reader in determining the reliability of the narrator. These textual signals include: the narrator's explicit contradictions and other discrepancies in the narrative discourse; divergences between the narrator's description of herself and other characters' descriptions of her; syntactic signals denoting the narrator's high level of emotional involvement, including exclamations, ellipses, repetitions, etc.; an admitted lack of reliability, memory gaps, and comments on cognitive limitations; discrepancies between the narrator's statements and actions, to name a few (Olson 93). While reading Nabokov’s novel, Lolita, the reader must use a combination of both Nünning’s and Booth’s research in order to truly identify the reliability on unreliability of the narrator in question. The fact that Humbert Humbert is a deeply disturbed individual is something that the reader quickly picks up on. Humbert can

Related Documents